Apr 12, 2012|
A parent has complained to me that a luxury Yamaha U-1 grade piano, which used to cost HK$38,000 less three years ago, now fetches a staggering price of HK$85,000. This is due to rocketing shop rents, higher manufacturing costs and, in particular, more nouveau-riche mainland parents who have flooded into Hong Kong seeking a better English education for their children, believing the piano to be a noble passport to a spot at Eton or Oxford.
There has been a frenetic piano-shopping spree in the territory that has gone relatively unnoticed compared to the notorious global-headline-grabbing gate-crashing at Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops on Canton Road. High-end pianos became sought-after products after the spiky-haired piano superstar Lang Lang made his name in Europe and America. With Lang’s untiringly persistent talent for turning a concert into a circus, the hope that “my son could be the next Jackie Chan smashing a Yamaha with his musical punches and kung-fu kicks on the prestigious stage of Carnegie Hall” is still held strongly in Shanghai and Hong Kong, making the Japanese piano manufacturer happier than ever.
But there are signs that the once-moonstruck infatuation with Lang in the west, the Lang-Lang-mania, is languishing. The Chinese narcissistic look-at-me piano genius is beginning to irritate his audience across the Pacific.
It has taken them more than a decade to discover that it ought to be Beethoven or Chopin who are on show, not a piano-lynching musical exhibitionist imported from Beijing. The typically Lang-Lang-ian quirky keyboard-hammering, with such a dramatic physical momentum, looks increasingly like a daily brawl in a Chinese market rather than evidence of any passion genuinely flowing from the heart. It is not even solid enough to be considered a mimicry of the limbering mannerisms of Yo-Yo Ma.
It may be a bit too early to presume that stockpiling a few dozen Yamaha U-2 pianos now will guarantee a better return in five years than buying a 500-square-foot flat on Robinson Road. Investing in such a machine, together with a few years of tedious piano lessons imposed on your reluctant and rebellious child, is still worthwhile only in the respect that classical music may effectively prevent your progeny from joining a triad. A useful thing on a CV when applying to Harrow? Yes, but a piano-playing Chinese schoolchild with a pile of Royal School of Music certificates to show off is as commonly seen as “Yan Can Cook” is on TV. An Oxford entrance oral examiner would be more impressed if your child from Hong Kong could recite the first two books of Virgil’s “Aeneid” in Latin. At a time when Chinese musical instruments are not as recognizable in the west as sweet and sour pork (despite Lang Lang’s effort to fuse piano and erhu, the latter played by his father dressed in a dark-blue Maoist suit in a weird performance a few years ago), think twice when you find yourself looking through the Tom Lee window pane.
Chip Tsao is a best-selling author, columnist and a former producer for the BBC. His columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.